The Weight of Water is Sarah Crossan’s debut novel, and an assured and beautiful debut it is too. It was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal this year (2013), and I can quite see why.
A slender volume, it tells the story, in free verse of Kasienka (Cassie), and her move from Gdansk in Poland to Coventry in the UK.
Kasienka is 12, but she has been put in Year 7. Not because she is not able to do the work, but because nobody understands that she can do the work, and she cannot make herself understood.
Making yourself understood is a huge part of what this book is about. Kasienka finds her voice, both in her private poetry and her swimming, but on dry land, in reality she finds herself unable to communicate, not just with English people, but also with her own mother.
Kasienka’s mother has come to Coventry to find her husband, who went to England and has not been seen since. Her grief, her anger, her sense of failure, all make her blind to what her daughter is going through, and as Kasienka suffers unwitting humiliation in front of her teachers, and bullying from her peers, she struggles alone to make sense of what this move from a life she knew and understood to one where she is frightened and alone, means to her.
This is a brilliant story, beautifully written. It is elegant, thoughtful and clever without being saccharine or pretentious. The poetry, which you may think is a hindrance in terms of understanding Kasienka’s experience, actually makes it more crystalline, and heartfelt.
I loved this book. I think it would be an excellent guided reader in class for children aged twelve and up to explore and understand bullying, racism and differences in culture.
It is a book predominantly aimed at girls, and I couldn’t imagine a boy reading it by choice, but I could imagine boys getting a lot out of it were they to read it in a classroom setting as part of group work.